Here’s an idiot idea

I might have mentioned this before. But gas flaring. Obviously, a waste of good energy. But often done when gas co-produced with oil is in small volume. Or there’s gas fields out there that are viable in the sense of drilling them but not in the sense of hooking them up to any pipeline nor LNG etc. So, it’s viable to produce but not to transport and thus, in the end, not viable.

On the other hand the production of fertiliser requires natural gas and air. And, of course, a machine. And it’s normally true in the chemicals industry that bigger is better. The wider the pipes (as I understand it) the more efficient the whole factory.

Hmm, so at what point is that crossover? Or alternatively, how small can you make a fertiliser factory to take advantage of free gas and still make a profit despite lower efficiency?

Does anyone know?

I’m pretty sure I have asked this before and the answer was, well, big companies don’t care (as I recall the answer at least) rather than a technical answer.

17 thoughts on “Here’s an idiot idea”

  1. So Much for Subtlety

    Presumably this would be to help the locals do whatever it is the locals do with sharpened sticks and the former rainforest?

    Wouldn’t the better solution, in an economic sense, to use the gas for something that could sell and then use the money to buy all the fertilizer they might need?

    In which case you need something that uses widely available raw materials, lo-tech processes and a pre-existing market. I would suggest the Solvay Process:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solvay_process

    You take limestone, burn it, add some brine do some chemical magic and you end up with soda ash. Huge market for it. Not particular high tech. A lot of hot and dry countries have too much gas, a coast line and I suspect limestone is not hard to find. Lots of experience with what would now be small scale plants.

  2. I see our resident Nobel laureate Wikipedia author and global Mastermind on every topic known to man (here: oil and gas production techniques, rainforest native tool and implement use, fertiliser manufacturing process) is first in with the solution! Bravo!

    We wouldn’t want any of the actual oilmen who frequent this place commenting, would we!

  3. You always need some, limited, flaring capacity: the flare allows gas to be vented safely in an emergency (the flame preventing an explosive mixture gathering anywhere on the facilities). Normal practice, however, is to keep the size of the flare as small as possible in normal operations.

    I know that offshore, using small volumes of gas can be a challenge. Gas is often used for local power generation (via gas turbines adapted from aero engines), both for electricity, and for directly powering compression equipment for transmitting gas down the pipeline to the shore. The design engineers for the North Sea Eider platform were very proud of themselves for discovering that they could use all the gas on that platform for power generation (removing the need for most flaring), and export power down a cable (much cheaper than gas pipeline) to the larger Tern platform, which then didn’t need to use gas for power generation – and thus could send more of *it’s* gas back to the shore.

    But anywhere where it is not economic to put the gas into a pipeline or generate power is likely to be too remote to make a factory practical.

  4. You’d not look at fertiliser, you look at bottling propane or methane if you don’t know what to do with your gas. In fact, I’m doing just this exercise on a project right now in Kurdistan.

    The first question we ask is: is there a local market for the gas? If not, then we don’t bother with a propane/butane unit. And if there is no market for the gas, then there is highly unlikely to be a market for fertiliser: you’d need a lot of farmers before it would become economical, and if there were that many customers we’d rather sell them propane or butane, which we actually know something about.

    So you’re on the right track, only with the wrong product. And it’s not really about economics, it’s about disposal: we cannot flare, and if the reservoir cannot take reinjected gas then we cannot produce the oil. So even if we were paying people to take the gas away, we’d probably do it. Problem is, in some areas we can’t even do that.

  5. You always need some, limited, flaring capacity: the flare allows gas to be vented safely in an emergency (the flame preventing an explosive mixture gathering anywhere on the facilities). Normal practice, however, is to keep the size of the flare as small as possible in normal operations.

    Almost: operational flaring is effectively banned on new projects and subject to fines if breached. The only purposes for the flare is (as you say) emergency depressurisation/venting plus and maintenance venting and start-up/commissioning. All you are supposed to see in normal operations is the pilot, although most of the time some fuckup means operational flaring still occurs quite often.

  6. You could look at Velocys, formerly Oxford Catalysts. They seem to have a very interesting micro channel process for small scale FT

  7. Thank you, Expat, for describing what I meant correctly! Indeed, the only “flare” that should normally be alight is an industrial-strength pilot light.

  8. You always need some, limited, flaring capacity

    Grangemouth, not too far from me, can often be seen flaring off. This is despite it having a wide range of chemical and o&g process plants within it. I’ve no experience of the economics of the industry but that does suggest that you end up with too much light gas for valid commercial exploitation.

  9. You also need to burn off any sour gas from your well which you cannot otherwise utilise (re-injection etc.) as Hydrogen Sulphide is a deadly poison.

  10. You also need to burn off any sour gas from your well which you cannot otherwise utilise (re-injection etc.) as Hydrogen Sulphide is a deadly poison.

    That’s a no-no too, nowadays. Either reinject or put some kind of sulphur processing unit on the end of your process. Kashagan is reinjecting high-concentration, high pressure H2S…or at least they would have been had their export line not leaked with H2S detected 2km away!

  11. Working on one of the projects ‘out there’ at the mo, everyone on site carries a detector and mask at all times! 17% H2S concentration and their reinjecting to keep the pressure up while trying to market the sulphur. They do have several flare stacks by the reinjection wells because at 17% this shit will kill you in an instant. I have no plans whatever to visit.

  12. Are you seriously telling me that the O&G industry knowingly injects poisonous chemicals into mother earth?

    Wait until the antifrackers hear about it!

  13. Working on one of the projects ‘out there’ at the mo, everyone on site carries a detector and mask at all times! 17% H2S concentration and their reinjecting to keep the pressure up while trying to market the sulphur.

    What is interesting is to start making inquiries as to the effectiveness of those masks at those levels of concentration. 🙂

  14. I did once try to persuade a LargeInternational Company that it might be possible to improve the standard process for the manufacture of methanol so that that would provide a neat use for surplus gas. One impediment to my success was the lack of understanding of thermodynamics of a particularly numbskulled German.

  15. People have been looking at flaring and wondering what useful thing might be done with it for many generations. I know I was badgering engineers over it 40 years ago. Someone who is familiar with a certain process, such as ” the production of fertiliser,” might someday see a flare and have an “Aha!” moment.

    Meanwhile, I have a much bigger opportunity. Cars and trucks lose a third of their energy in heat, most of which goes out the exhaust pipe. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get something useful from it? It is a vast amount of energy.

  16. So Much for Subtlety

    Bloke in Germany – “I see our resident Nobel laureate Wikipedia author and global Mastermind on every topic known to man (here: oil and gas production techniques, rainforest native tool and implement use, fertiliser manufacturing process) is first in with the solution! Bravo!”

    Always a pleasure.

    “We wouldn’t want any of the actual oilmen who frequent this place commenting, would we!”

    It is not actually an oilman-related problem. It is an economics one. The oilmen are very good at getting oil and gas out of the ground. If there was an oil-related economic use for this gas, they would not be flaring it. As Gamecock says, people have been looking at what to do with it for generations. They still flare.

    Oilfield Expat – “What is interesting is to start making inquiries as to the effectiveness of those masks at those levels of concentration. :)”

    Somewhere I had a study of what would happen if the Soviets delivered a large amount of H2S by 122 mm rocket. It is hard to tell if it was panicking because they wanted to sell NATO new chem-suits or if they were panicking because it was a problem. But they did seem to think there might be a problem.

    Gamecock – “Meanwhile, I have a much bigger opportunity. Cars and trucks lose a third of their energy in heat, most of which goes out the exhaust pipe. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get something useful from it? It is a vast amount of energy.”

    Don’t give them ideas. Pretty soon they will mandate all cars and trucks are part of a district heating system. My favourite little aha moment was when someone, David Rose I think, suggested that if some solar power system using low grade heat would work (an OTEC plant I think) then perhaps they might like to try it using the output of an existing power station. Needless to say they did not take him up on the offer.

  17. Somewhere I had a study of what would happen if the Soviets delivered a large amount of H2S by 122 mm rocket. It is hard to tell if it was panicking because they wanted to sell NATO new chem-suits or if they were panicking because it was a problem. But they did seem to think there might be a problem.

    The 122mm rockets from the BM-21 have 20kg warheads. They aren’t really practical for delivery of H2S (or similar gases such as chlorine that need high concentrations for lethal effect). Mustard gas, which has a relatively high doseage requirement is 200,000 times more ‘effective’ than H2S.

    From memory of former Warsaw Pact tactics, most of the rain of noxious chemical death was expected to be either non-persistent nerve agent or mustard.

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